Cottage Homes were set up on the lines of an experimental colony for delinquent boys set up in Mettray, France. It was found that living in small “family” groups in pleasant surroundings lead to improvement in the behaviour of the residents. So from 1871 children were transferred from the large dormitory wings of workhouses to purpose built communities. Some cottages were set in a street situation while others were built around a “village green”. The “Homes” in Bridgend opened in 1879 can still be seen, the interiors have been modernised and are now privately owned by the present residents. Marston Green Cottage Homes were built in a similar style but were far bigger, housing 417 children in 1903 when our relation lived there. (Bridgend had 43 children at the same time.)
Jenifer Wayne describes Marston Green during the 1890s in her book Brown Bread and Butter in the Basement “... a village some fifteen miles from Birmingham. In the nineties ...deep in the country...”.the rent for their cottage was £5 per year. Her Grandfather Arthur Charles WAYNE had been a school teacher at the Cottage Homes. He left Marston Green to become the Superintendent at the newly built Aston Cottage Homes in Erdington. He moved in 1900 not long after Albert HOLLIOAKE entered Marston Green in 1899. However Miss Wayne does relate stories about a second Marston Green teacher who may have taught Albert. This man had been a workhouse child. He was badly disfigured while rescuing someone from a fire. Sadly his red hair and withered arm made him subject to ridicule and he was far from gentle in his dealings with his pupils. “In the school at the Cottage Homes Benbow kept his classes transfixed with fear and boredom ...”
When Elizabeth Skellet MELLOR  died in the Workhouse infirmary her youngest children Albert Allman  and Violet HOLLIOAKE  were taken to Marston Green Cottage Homes. From the story he told his youngest daughters it seems that Albert and Violet tried to keep themselves hidden as best they could after their mother died but a month after Albert was picked up by a “fine” lady in a carriage and taken to the Cottage Homes. It has been suggested that the lady was Miss Cadbury. Jenifer Wayne explains that it was Miss Cadbury that appointed her Grandfather Superintendent of the Aston Homes.”Miss Cadbury, of the chocolate family was a very active local personage in social welfare.” What happened to Violet is unknown but she too was eventually admitted to the Cottage Homes a month later although the registers make no indication that Albert and Violet were siblings. After the cramped back to back house in crowded streets were they had previously lived the Cottage Homes must have been amazing for them. There were fourteen houses each for about 30 children set in park land. This “Village” had it’s own school, infirmary and chapel. The House mothers were often widows.
In her book Jenifer Wayne described the area where Albert had previously lived as “a blackened network of courts, yards, back streets and alleys sordid with poverty, drunkenness and crime.” she continues to describe the children of the area.”Not only were they barefoot,but really in rags, and they really did sometimes sleep in the gutters,The drunks slept there too;people thought nothing of stepping over them.” Albert told his children how he used to sit on the pavement talking to the men outside Rowton House a hostel for homeless men.
Albert once went to see the Cottage Homes with one of his daughters and pointed out his house which was next to the clock tower. Another of his daughters wrote;
“Going through the Marston Green Cottage Homes School's Log Books there is no mention of either Albert or Violet Johnson. It was obviously a very caring community much visited by the Cadbury's. Hearing and eye tests regularly arranged, trips (even to Llandudno!) days off etc. Monthly references to time off when "Parents visited from workhouse" or “children visited mothers in workhouse”. Also the temperatures of classrooms were recorded and children sent back to their cottages when it was too cold and when workmen were burning rubbish near the boys school, it was deemed "unsuitable for the boys" and they were sent to share the girls school till the smell had gone. I was very reassured that he was in a better place than he left. He wasn't in the "absconder's lists" anyway -